You could say Andrea and Jesse Ybarra of Phoenix, Arizona, were “FC before FC was cool.” Jesse’s first motor vehicle driving experience was in a Jeep FC-150 Forward Control (FC) on the remote desert ranch where he grew up, and the FC-bug has remained in his blood ever since. Today, he and wife Andrea are considered the FC enthusiast group’s best ambassadors and promoters through their events and website (fcconnection.com). So what would the ambassadors drive? Jesse has probably bought, sold, scrapped, restored, and built-up more FCs than anyone, but the project in which he invested most of his time, effort, and hard-earned lessons lately is a ’64 M-679 Forward Control Ambulance.
If you know anything about the M-Series FCs, you will know the M-679 is one of the most rare and coveted of the bunch. Some of you may have purist nostrils beginning to flare in outrage that such a rare rig has been so heavily modified. Chill! Jesse is no restoration purist, but he does recognize rarity and originality when he sees it, and has plenty of pure Jeeps in his collection. When this one came into his possession, it was a stripped and rusted hulk, and he literally saved it from the crusher. From the ashes rose the phoenix, in Phoenix, and after 3,000 hours of labor, it became the Ybarra’s dream vehicle. And to placate the purists, nothing is done that can’t be undone. Jesse said he could put the Ambulance back to stock without major effort.
The M-679 has been transformed into a machine that can wheel with the best but still cruise down the freeway comfortably at speeds up to 90 mph. A 4,000-mile shakedown trip from Phoenix to Marengo, Illinois, for an FC event and back proved it was up to the freeway part, and the wheeling tests will probably start soon in the Arizona desert. Not that Jesse expects many surprises—it’s not the first FC he’s built for that purpose.
The chassis is almost unaltered from stock, but up front, Jesse used hybrid springs made from combining Ranchos with the stock military-wrap main leaf for a five-leaf pack. Air shocks add a level of ride tuning. The front axle is a GM 10-bolt with 8-lug hubs, 3.73 gears, and a limited slip. The rear axle is an 8-lug AAM 10.5, also with a limited slip, and the rear spring packs were built much the same as the front to end up with five leaves and air shocks. Nothing fancy, but the ride is very comfortable. The amount of lift was just enough to fit HUMVEE-style 37x16.5 Goodyears on American Racing 16.5x9.85-inch alloys. Though it looks taller, it’s only about 6 inches taller than stock and fits into an 8-foot garage opening with an inch to spare.
The powertrain starts with a small block 434ci stroker with 400 heads, an Edelbrock Performer intake, Edelbrock Performer carburetor, and ’97 Corvette headers with dual exhaust. It was dyno tested at 430hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Yeah it’s a tight fit in there. The big issue in an FC swap is cooling, and the radiator is a very special custom eight-core, extra-thick unit with a lot of ducting underneath to take away heat. If it can survive Phoenix in the summer—which it has—you know it works.
Backing the small block is a built 700R4 with an Allison RV torque converter. It uses a shifter from a Hummer and has a honkin’-big cooler. It’s mated to an NP208 slip-yoke transfer case from a GM truck, with driveshafts custom built to match the chassis.
The Ybarra’s had to fabricate much of the lower body and floor, as this one started out as a typical rust bucket. It was worse than typical, which is why it was awaiting the crusher. He added the removable fender extensions to account for the wider tires and axles. The inside will probably get a little more attention, but in tribute to its military roots, the FC will likely never be plush. Better seats from a Chevy Trailblazer, sound deadening, some carpet, a few creature comforts like a Pyle PLD Motorized touchscreen stereo take some of the jarring out of the old jarhead machine. The speedometer cluster is from a Porsche and wishfully reads up to 160 mph. Currently, a folding couch-futon in back makes into a daybed or lounging spot. The original surgical light is in place, and there is a custom internal rollcage added.
Because of the FC’s Phoenix home base, most would inquire about air conditioning. Jesse looked into it but found it a big challenge that required more cutting and hacking of the body than he wanted, so the A/C project is on hold. He laughs it off, saying, “We are tough Phoenicians! We don’t need no stinking air conditioning!” Tough truck; tough owners!
Hard FactsVehicle:1964 Kaiser Jeep M-679 Ambulance
Engine: Chevy 434ci stroker V-8
Transmission: 700R4 automatic
Transfer Case: GM NP208
Suspension: Rancho front leaf springs and custom rear springs; Rancho and Gabriel Air shocks
Axles: GM 8-lug 10-bolt front w/limited slip; AAM 10.5 rear w/limited slip
Wheels: American Racing 9.85x16.5
Tires: 37x16.5 Goodyear Military
Built For: Turning heads, daily transport, and moderate trail running